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Social Media and Subscriptions – can the two exist in harmony?

Social media and subscriptions: Instagram is the latest social media platform to move towards offering a subscription-based model for its creators… But what exactly does this mean?


The lowdown: 

With Instagram subscriptions, subscribers pay a monthly fee to see exclusive content. They also get a subscriber badge next to their name so they can stand out in comments and DMs. Meta has recently introduced more tools for creators to connect with subscribers on Instagram: subscriber chats, exclusive posts and Reels and an exclusive tab on your profile.

All of this happens at a price point the influencer sets for themselves.


Why are social platforms offering crowdfund content? 


To answer this, we need to understand the power dynamics. 

 Simply put… what a time to be a creator! In the world of social media, THEY are the stars. We’ve seen it in sports & entertainment for decades. Historically it would be sports teams or movie studios fighting it out for the stars to be on their team. In 2022, it’s the platforms that all want social media stars to call their apps home. Sure, the platforms create the world, but the creators are what keep us coming back. 


As stated on Instagram’s website, ‘subscriptions’ are a way to “earn recurring monthly income by offering exclusive content and experiences to your most engaged followers.” So, the answer to the question ‘Why?’ is simple. To attract & keep creators on their platform by offering them a new way to earn.


What is the impact? 


One potential impact for creators is how to distinguish between free & premium content. It’s not like influencers haven’t been trying to create the best content possible – the space is too competitive to do otherwise. So, how do they now elevate their content to the point where followers are willing to pay to see it? Previously the transaction between creator & influencer was time for time. Now, with the option to add money to this, it changes the dynamics. Overlaps start to happen & suddenly, they can find themselves with a whole new world of competitors. 


TikTok already calls itself an ‘entertainment’ platform. Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime & Disney+ wouldn’t exactly be offended if you labelled them with that title also. These streaming giants have a transaction with consumers that involve time & money. So, the question becomes, do ‘Subscriptions’ end up competing or at least playing on the same field as these giants & can they compete? Like for like, surely creators don’t stand a chance – the quality & quantity of content on these platforms are so high due to the budgets. 

In the UK, Netflix offers 2986 titles; in the US, over 5000, and they do this for £11 a month. 


Ultimately, it is a battle for consumers’ time & money. We’ve all thought at one point,’ There are too many subscription services.’ It’s a common complaint from consumers when it comes to entertainment. Add influencer subscriptions into this & it only compounds this consumer frustration. 

And some, have been openly negative about the trend…


Despite the lure of a more stable income for creators, it adds new pressures for them:


a) How do they price themselves against the rest of the subscription entertainment market? 


b) How do they elevate their game so that consumers are willing to pay for content they’ve been getting free for years? 


Looking at Point B, perhaps there is a silver lining – access & authenticity. 



Promising signs…


There has been evidence of success with payments on social media. In 2021, TikTok became the first App to beat a game (App) in consumer spending & Twitch has built a successful business on subscriptions. However, perhaps the biggest success story with this model is OnlyFans. Takeaway the apparent product that creators offer, OnlyFans has found success by giving fans the chance to have a genuine connection with a creator by putting their money where their mouth is. Amrapali Gan, CEO of OnlyFans, believes this is one of the reasons for her platform’s success. “When you message someone on another platform, they are probably not going to see it”. But that’s not the case on OnlyFans. 


This “genuine connection” may be the secret ingredient to success for creators using subscriptions. Will increased access & authentic communication with creators make fans part with their money? 


Meta’s recent addition to “subscriptions” – subscriber chats is evidence that they think so. Subscriber chats creates exclusive messenger groups of no more than 30 users, allowing fans & creators to be closer than ever before. But is that deemed valuable enough for the average consumer to part with their money? 

The very nature of increased closeness and access to a creator relies on limited numbers, so how can creators scale this to make it worthwhile? Suppose access is the key to users parting with their money. In that case, the prices will need to be very high for it to be worthwhile to the creator considering subscriber chats only allow up to 30 people in a group. 


So what does the success hang on… 


Well, it was made for influencers to earn money, so ultimately the onus is on them. The challenge is for creators & influencers to offer content & access to their followers to make it worthwhile. The social media platforms can offer the technology & their scale to aid them. But, users will subscribe to creators, NOT the platform, as evidenced by Twitter Blue’s shortcomings. 


For creators, it will also be essential to find ways to incorporate branded opportunities into this new ecosystem, as that is a major source of income for them. 


So, how do brands fit in? 


The complication for brands is the desire to reach that subscriber audience. After all, these are the consumers brands are after when partnering with an influencer – the followers loyal enough to pay for their content. 


The problem is that typically when people pay for subscriptions, it replaces advertising: YouTube Premium, Spotify, etc. So, will subscribers feel overly commercialised if they are served branded content also? In addition, is there enough scale & reach for it to be worthwhile to a brand if they aren’t reaching as many users?


When current brand collaborations are held up or torn down based on authenticity, brands hoping to reach the pinnacle of an influencer fandom can’t just pay to play. This is where true collaboration is required.


Our Takeout 


Platforms must develop to remain attractive for influencers as the arms race heats up for creators. Subscriptions are the latest iteration, but it is ultimately on the creators to find ways to maximise this medium. For brands, it is a case of watching the space & start to theorise about ways where they can create out-of-the-box influencer campaigns using subscriptions.


To find out more about how your brand can harness the power of social media to boost awareness and stay up to date with the latest trends, check out our Platforms service and take the next step in reaching your full marketing potential.

Written by Paddy Tyldesley for Pitch Marketing Group

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